NYC’s Top Doc Apologizes for Describing Mothers as “Birthing People”

Dr. Michelle Morse, the chief medical officer at New York City’s Department of Health, has received sharp criticism for describing pregnant women differently along lines of race, choosing to call pregnant white women “birthing people” while referencing pregnant women of color as “mothers” in a late March tweet.

Since the city’s top doctor’s March 23 tweet, a DOH spokesman called Morse’s post an “oversight” and said “we apologize for inadvertently gendering Black and Puerto Rican birthing people,” according to the New York Post.

Morse had been sharing a number of tweets in which she advocated for increased allocation of goods and services to women of color. A disproportionate number of them, Morse argued, had died either during or shortly after childbirth.

Specifically, she pointed out that black and Puerto Rican mothers were suffering fatalities in birthing at a rate much higher than that of white women. To fix that, Morse suggested on Twitter increasing access to available doulas, a kind of specialized midwife, and other services to minority communities.

But one of Morse’s tweets triggered a backlash online when she seemed to differentiate between “mothers” and “birthing people” in a way specific to black and Puerto Rican women and non-Hispanic white women, respectively.

“The urgency of this moment is clear,” Morse wrote in the Twitter thread. “Mortality rates of birthing people are too high, and babies born to Black and Puerto Rican mothers in this city are three times more likely to die in their first year of life than babies born to non-Hispanic White birthing people.”

Despite using the word “maternal,” Morse’s thread frequently used the gender-neutral term of “birthing people” to refer to mothers. She also touted an “anti-racist” objective to make health “equity” a reality for city resdients.

“Too many NYC families experience life-threatening complications from childbirth, and even loss of life of the birthing person or their child. We must hold ourselves and health care delivery organizations accountable to our anti-racism mission and make health equity a realty,” Morse also added in the thread.

Critics were quick to lambast Morse for “canceling” women and differentiating mothers by race, calling for her license to practice medicine to be revoked.

“New York City’s top doc can’t say what a woman is even though she has likely spent years studying human anatomy and biology. How can we help women if we can’t name them?” The Post Millennial‘s editor-in-chief Libby Emmons wrote.

It isn’t the first time Morse faced controversy over race in healthcare.

The New York Post reported how last year Morse co-authored an article published in the Boston Review, advocating for the implementation of a kind of healthcare standard of equity—a so-called “proactively antiracist agenda for medicine.”

“Federally paid reparations are essential, and broad adoption of Healing ARCs can build on them—directly implementing restitution across a variety of institutional contexts and for a range of marginalized BIPOC communities. Through our pilot initiative, we hope to provide a replicable, CRT-informed framework that can move us beyond the historic cycle of documenting racial inequities while endlessly deferring their resolution. The outstanding debt from the harm caused by our institutions, and owing to our BIPOC patients, is long overdue: now is the time to start settling it,” the March 2021 article co-written by Morse reads.

From that premise, Morse argued, there’s only one actionable thing to do: Address the problem of medical inequity by looking at the problem through a racial lens.

It’s a sentiment that seems to have made its way through to her Twitter feed.


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